Protecting “the most threatened ecosystem”

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GENEVA, Switzerland, February 2, 2022 (ENS) – In 2020, forest fires destroyed 30% of the Pantanal, the largest wetland in South America that spans Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay. Over the past 60 years, Lake Chad, one of Central Africa’s vast wetlands, has disappeared.

World Wetlands Day, celebrated by the United Nations for the first time this year, highlights the importance of the conservation and sustainability of one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems for the health of people and the planet. .

“It gives me great pleasure to celebrate World Wetlands Day with you, for the first time as a United Nations International Day. This is a recognition by the United Nations of the global significance of our wetlands and the global importance of managing and conserving them,” CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero said today. , in a video message.

An environmental economist and the first woman to lead the organization that administers the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, CITES, Higuero warned that “over the past 55 years, we have lost more than a third of the Earth’s surface wetlands, almost entirely due to human activity.

“We drained water and built houses and roads and destroyed the balance of plants and animals that allowed wetlands to thrive,” she lamented.

Ivonne Higuero is Secretary General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, June 14, 2019 (Photo courtesy of UN Geneva)

“In English, there are nearly a hundred words that are used for wetlands – marsh, fen, moor, bog, are just a few of the most common,” Higuero said, “ but behind all these words are hidden little worlds that support specialized species of plants and animals and give so much to us and our planet.They can absorb tides and winds, hold back flood waters and give us strength. Clean air and clean water are vital bubbles of life, or ecosystems, if you will.

Higuero says days like World Wetlands Day and World Wildlife Day on March 3 are about recognizing the damage done and what we need to do to manage and preserve wetlands “which, in one way or on another we all depend”.

“I am happy to say that countries around the world have recognized what needs to be done to preserve our ecosystems and the wildlife that inhabit them. They have put in place conventions, such as Ramsar and CITES, designed to stop and repair the damage.

“Now is the time to ensure the full implementation of these conventions and achieve their objectives,” said the CITES Secretary-General, pledging to continue close collaboration between CITES and Ramsar organizations.

The Ramsar Convention is the treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. The Convention was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and entered into force in 1975. Since then, nearly 90% of UN Member States, from all geographic regions of the world, have joined it.

CITES is the treaty that aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species. Eighty countries adopted the CITES treaty on March 3, 1973, and on July 1, 1975, it entered into force. It now covers around 25,000 plant species and 5,000 animal species.

“We know that wetlands play a vital role in maintaining the biodiversity that is key to our future,” Higuero said. “We know that 40% of the world’s plants and animals depend on wetlands, and we know that without them we cannot achieve the sustainable development goals we have set ourselves.

Roseate Spoonbills in the wetlands of Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, January 18, 2022 (Photo by C Watts)

Wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests and are the most threatened ecosystem on Earth, according to the UN. In just 50 years – since 1970 – 35% of the world’s wetlands have disappeared.

“Wetlands are sources of life. They provide services worth $47 trillion a year: including almost all of our fresh water, food, raw materials and medicines for life,” said Martha Rojas Urrego , Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

“But despite these critical benefits, we are losing wetlands three times faster than forests,” she warned. “It is essential that actions to protect, manage and restore wetlands are addressed in the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and countries’ nationally determined contributions to deliver the scale of impact we we need.”

The post-2020 biodiversity framework is expected to be adopted at the UN Biodiversity Conference in May 2022 in Kunming, China.

This year’s Ramsar Convention Wetlands Campaign aims to stimulate urgent action to reverse the loss of wetlands – by mobilizing finance, transforming agricultural practices, reducing water waste, contributing to restoration efforts or supporting the cleanup of local wetlands.

Africa flooded after human destruction of wetlands

Dr Mithika Mwenda, Executive Director of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, PACJA, said it is the encroachment on wetlands that has caused communities suffering from the global climate crisis in the form of flooded homes. , flooded roads, flooded farms and casualties. crops with even light rains.

Over the past few days, around 200,000 people in the southern African countries of Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia have been displaced by the devastation of Tropical Storm Ana. The storm and resulting flooding killed at least 21 people and injured 210 others.

Mwenda says intact wetlands could have helped mitigate the negative impacts of flooding. “Wetlands have economic potential. First, in addition to mitigating the negative impacts of flooding, water scarcity and soil erosion, wetlands also provide wider environmental and economic benefits, such as centers for ecotourism,” said Mwenda.

The United Nations environment agency, UNEP, calls wetlands biodiversity hotspots, carbon sinks and source of livelihoods, with potentials to increase regional food security by increasing sustainably food production and supporting ecosystem services and ecosystem functions.

Globally, wetlands such as the East African Papyrus-dominated wetlands are recognized as providing invaluable and efficient ecosystems for carbon capture and storage.

A hippo wallows in the protected wetlands of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, St Lucia Estuary, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, November 2, 2017 (Photo by Esther Westerveld)

But Mwenda warns that wetlands face challenges – deforestation and encroachment for agriculture, settlement and industrial development; invasive and alien species; inappropriate land use planning and/or land use change adversely affecting the regulating functions of wetland ecosystems.

Mwenda observes that population growth and rising land prices have put even the wetlands at risk from property speculators.

“The sad thing is that even where governments have ratified the Ramsar Convention,” Mwenda said, “they still allow private individuals to encroach on wetlands.”

A broad definition of wetlands includes ecosystems such as lakes and rivers, underground aquifers, swamps and many others; as well as artificial sites such as fish ponds or reservoirs.

Although they cover only about 6% of the Earth’s land surface, 40% of all plant and animal species live or breed in wetlands.

Vital to human well-being and security, more than one billion people around the world depend on wetlands for their livelihoods, or about one in eight people on Earth.

New Zealand conservationists seek to double wetlands

Forest & Bird and 10 other organizations are calling on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to double the extent of natural wetlands in New Zealand by 2050.

The government welcomed the call to action. “We have lost 90% of our wetlands since human habitation, which is one of the highest loss rates in the world. We need to protect what’s left,” said Environment Minister David Parker.

The picnic table overlooks a wetland near Glenorchy, a small settlement on Lake Wakatipu in the South Island region of Otago, New Zealand. April 4, 2021 (Photo by Peter Kurdulija)

“Strong protections, and our significant investments and efforts to restore and restore them, are an important part of the government’s commitment to improving freshwater health and management. Protecting and restoring wetlands is a key aspect of the government’s key freshwater reforms.

To mark World Wetlands Day, the Department of Conservation has released reports on five Ramsar wetland sites in New Zealand.

“Wetlands provide many benefits, including protection and enhancement of water quality, providing rich habitat for species of taonga, a hauanga kai [food gathering]as well as storing flood water and maintaining surface water flow during dry spells,” said Conservation Minister Kiri Allan.

Wetlands contain significant stores of carbon. When left undisturbed, they absorb and hold carbon from the air, sometimes for thousands of years. But when wetlands are drained, they become a source of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Preventing the destruction of wetlands can help avoid greenhouse gas emissions and provide a range of other environmental, biodiversity and community benefits,” Allan said.

Parker said the government supports many wetland restoration projects through the Jobs for Nature program or the Natural Heritage Fund, working with regional councils, communities and landowners.

“To date, 192 freshwater restoration projects have been approved to receive funding from Jobs for Nature. Many of these projects involve wetland restoration as a primary objective.

The government has also provided NZ$11.2 million to purchase a farm near Lake Horowhenua which will be converted into a wetland to help improve the lake’s water quality.

“We know what we need to do and we know how to do it,” said Rojas, the leader of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

“We need action from all of society to rewet, reforest and restore wetlands to protect our most biodiverse and valuable ecosystem for people and nature.”

The featured image: Jaguars play in a marshy stream in Brazil’s northern Pantanal. August 18, 2020 (Photo by Daniel Kantek/Oregon State University)

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